Stay True to Your Brand

Starbucks recently launched their first line of instant coffee, labeled ‘Via’. In the tv spot, they show a blind comparison test between their traditional Barista-made coffee and the new instant line. The messaging is: we bet they can’t tell the difference.

So is this the new product line that will bring Starbucks out of it’s yearlong profits nosedive, or a mistake of “New Coke” sized proportion? The launch certainly made Wall Street happy, as shares rose 4 percent yesterday on the Nasdaq Stock Market, according to an announcement on Bloomberg.com. However this short-term gain could have a significant long-term negative effect on the Starbucks brand.

After all, this is a company built on the idea of bringing traditional, expertly-made coffee concoctions to a discerning consumer, and pricing them accordingly. In the beginning, Baristas were sent to Italy to learn the traditional style of brewing espresso, and as anyone knows from attempting to order a ‘medium regular coffee’ at the counter is that even the naming and sizing of beverages was meant to differentiate the brand from the major coffee chains.

While I don’t necessarily see a problem with the introduction of an instant line for convenience and variety, I do find major flaws with positioning it directly against the traditional style. People don’t just go to Starbucks for the coffee, they go for the experience. There is something to be said for having your morning cuppa prepared by a trained barista, and waiting that extra few minutes for the foam to be poured just right. Somehow it feels a bit more accurate to pay extra for a ‘tall, half-caf, soy Americano’ than for a ‘medium regular’ that you could have brewed yourself with hot water on an airplane.

The marketers behind New Coke thought they had a great product extension idea as well, and ended up shooting themselves in the foot. So what do you think?